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Who’s who in oncology?

Medical oncologists are doctors who diagnose, assess, treat and manage patients with cancer. In the UK, the four most common types of cancer are breast, lung, prostate and bowel – but there are actually more than 200 different types of cancer, which can make it difficult to recruit the right participants for your healthcare fieldwork research.

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Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably, invading and destroying surrounding healthy tissue and organs. It sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other areas, which is known as metastasis.

Oncologists work with patients of all ages, and their overall aim is to provide the best possible outcome for cancer patients, whether that is cure, palliation, or prolongation of good quality of life. In addition, they also provide counselling for patients and their families, whilst clinical research is a very important part of the role too.

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The facts

  • More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime
  • There are currently 2,136 oncologists in the UK
  • This includes 710 trainees
  • The distribution of the workforce largely mirrors the most prevalent cancer types breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers accounting for more than half of cancer registrations


Diagnosis and treatment

Once a diagnosis is made, oncologists will decide on a treatment plan depending on the disease stage, with surgery often being the first treatment to try because solid tumours can usually be surgically removed. Two other treatment methods are chemotherapy – defined as the destruction of cancer cells – and radiotherapy. However, each type of cancer is diagnosed and treated in a particular way, which means that ultimately treatment plans will vary for each patient.

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Who treats it

The role of oncologists usually includes diagnosing cancers, discussing treatment options, arranging and supervising drug treatments and therapies, as well as supporting patients and generally overseeing their care. Cancer is often treated in a team effort, and as such oncologists are trained to work as part of a multidisciplinary team.

This team usually consists of at least two or three types of oncologists, including medical, surgical or clinical, as well as pathologists, radiologists and specialist oncology nurses. Generally speaking though, the field of oncology can be split into three major areas:

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Medical oncologists

Medical oncologists are one of the most common types of oncologists and tend to specialise in the treatment of solid tumours, usually with chemotherapy. In addition, they also use other medications such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy, and they will also refer to surgeons too.

Clinical oncologists

Clinical oncologists use radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat and manage patients with cancer. Their job is different from medical oncologists who use non-radiological treatments to treat cancer, with 85% of clinical oncologists treating patients with a balance of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Surgical oncologists

A surgical oncologist is a surgeon who specialises in the surgical removal of cancerous tumours. During surgery, they will remove the tumour and any nearby tissue and perform biopsies which will be sent away to help with the diagnosis of cancer.

In addition to these three main areas, other important types of oncologists who work as part of the multidisciplinary team include:

Haematology oncologists

A haematology/oncology physician specialises in treating cancers and disorders of the blood such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Paediatric oncologists

Paediatric oncologists specialise in diagnosing and treating cancers in children such as brain tumours, leukaemia, and neuroblastoma. Treatment often differs from adult oncology but may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and/or stem cell transplant.

Oncology nurses

Oncology nurses have many roles, from helping with cancer screening, detection and preventions to the care and ongoing treatment of patients. They worth with both adults and children and will work in a variety of locations including hospitals, clinics, radiation therapy facilities and home care agencies.

Our experience

At GKA we have a wealth of knowledge in oncology healthcare fieldwork research and have conducted more than 190 studies with oncologists over the years. Our experience includes AML, kidney, lung, multiple melanoma, NSCLC, ovarian, breast, colorectal and BCC cancers, and we currently have 526 oncologists and 138 oncology nurses on our panel. If you’d like to find out more about the type of people we can reach for your healthcare fieldwork research, sign up to our series of therapy area guides, focusing specifically on oncology.